Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the October 27,

2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: New Jersey Repertory Company

Although the scene appears to be a rather non-descript bedroom, the

action in Lee Blessing’s new play "Whores" actually takes place in the

hallucinating mind of Raoul de Raoul (Jonathan Cantor), a retired

general of an unnamed Central American country now living in Florida,

where he has been granted amnesty from prosecution on charges of

committing atrocities. Married with children, Raoul’s head is swirling

with fantastical images and horrific memories, notably the rape and

murder of three nuns and a lay worker by his death squad. Presented as

a series of outrageously perverse sexual encounters, punctuated by his

self-incriminating anxieties, denials and delusions, the episodes

would presumably have us see the short-circuiting connections that

Raoul is making between sexual prowess and political power.

Blessing, whose plays "A Walk in the Woods," "Thief River," and

"Cobb," had a foothold on reality, takes a reckless plunge into the

abstract world of tragic-comedy made famous by Ionesco. The issue that

Blessing seems to be considering is the moral depravity and ethical

disintegration of leaders who have been mistakenly led to believe

themselves in authority, but who are in actuality manipulated as pawns

by a more insidious and powerful outside authority. As that

perspective is clear enough, what is unclear is the cloudy manner and

choppy style that Blessing uses to dramatize it.

Despite the manic motor-mouthed performances by four fine actors and

the zany direction by John Pietrowski, "Whores" plays out like an

extended and extremely outre skit. Despite its skewed psychological

path, the play doesn’t appear to arc towards either a dramatic or

comedic resolve.

The play begins, however, with an amusing, if tasteless, bit of

titillation as Raoul is being scolded by Carmencita (Corinne Edgerly),

a dominatrix-type director, who is losing patience with him and his

amateurish sexual performance with a nun during the making of a porno

film.

Following is a scene in which the unnerved and confounded Raoul dances

with a French woman who talks of being raped and loving it.

Subsequently he is reminded of his murders and tortures by his wife

(also played by Edgerly), who says, "Thank God, this is America and

you can’t be tried as a criminal."

Three women, who go by the names of Josette (Carol Todd), Angelique

(Lily Mercer) and Miou-Miou (Lea Eckert), appear as the murdered nuns

who relive the day of their deaths; as three French whores who sit

with plucked chickens on their laps listening to a 1980 radio

broadcast given by Archbishop Romero of El Salvador; as three lawyers

who read a deposition and respond to Raoul’s claims that he is being

threatened by both the left and right. Two of them also appear as

Raoul’s petulant children. Somewhere in this duck soup of a play is

the insinuation that Raoul has already been the subject of a

movie-of-the-week – "Raoul de Raoul, Savior of Central America." Amid

recounting mass murders and cover-ups, he dances a tango with

Angelique, who suggests to him that "You can’t dance on someone’s

grave unless you can dance."

What passes for humor lands mostly with a thud, particularly Edgerly’s

appearance as Mary, Mother of God, and Raoul’s fantasy of himself as a

blatantly masturbating and joke-less standup comic. But his

serio-satiric speech in full military getup condemning the imposed

American infrastructure, the FBI, the CIA, and their denial of

complicity in his failed and corrupt regime, packs a punch. It is

certainly fascinating to consider, as Blessing does, the circumstances

that surround a foreign leader suspected of atrocities who finds

asylum in America. However, the play, which was apparently inspired by

the true story of the murder of three American nuns and a Catholic lay

worker in El Salvador, seems unnecessarily fragmented and circuitous

and seriously lost in tasteless charades and obscenities.

A two-act version of "Whores" had its premiere in 2003 at the

Contemporary American Theater Festival in West Virginia. This new

one-act version is a co-production of New Jersey Repertory Company and

Playwrights Theater of New Jersey in Madison (where it will play from

February 3 to 20, 2005).

– Simon Saltzman

Whores, through November 14, New Jersey Repertory Company, 179

Broadway, Long Branch. Tickets: 732-229-3166 or www.njrep.org;

Thursday, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2

p.m. Tickets $30.


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